ANNE PEDERSEN, LISA HARTLEY and CAROLINE FLEAY are Curtin University academics employed at the Centre for Human Rights Education. Drs Pedersen, Hartley and Fleay say it’s time for Australia’s harsh asylum seeker laws to be wound back, and ponder why those with the biggest grudges against refugees are generally those who know the least about them.
THE Academics for Refugees National Day of Action is on Wednesday (October 17).
This day of action is taking place at universities across Australia to show support for people seeking asylum and refugees.
We write this article to urge readers to think deeply about the dire situation of the refugees who remain on Nauru and Manus Island.
In an open letter to the prime minister in September of this year, the Australian Medical Association argued for a more compassionate approach to refugees; especially the children on Nauru.
The Australian Psychological Society has made a similar call highlighting extreme concerns about the suicide attempts of refugees as well as serious self-harm incidents in offshore detention sites.
They outline the damaging impacts on the mental and physical health of refugees who are forced to remain in offshore detention.
Research consistently finds that the people in the Australian community who are the most negative about asylum seekers and refugees are the ones who have the least accurate information about them.
Why is there so much inaccurate information in the Australian community?
One possible reason is the extreme difficulty for journalists and human rights observers to visit Nauru and Manus Island.
The physical and mental health of the men on Manus Island is rapidly deteriorating.
As urged by Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian writer and refugee detained on Manus Island for the past five years, these men need to be urgently resettled in safe countries.
The situation on Nauru is similarly dire. Two years ago, a report by the Australian Human Rights Commission described the children held in Nauru as some of the “most traumatised people they have ever seen”.
Not only have they been traumatised in their country of origin, but they are being re-traumatised in detention both by the situation and the fact there is little hope of securing a safe future.
A number of these refugees, including children as young as seven years old, have tried to kill or harm themselves in horrific ways. Over 80 per cent suffer from PTSD and depression.
A number of children on Nauru are now suffering from Traumatic Withdrawal Syndrome which occurs in extreme cases when children face ongoing trauma.
They have given up eating and have withdrawn into a catatonic state. Medical experts note that there are no acceptable mental or physical health facilities on Nauru to treat the children.
They need to be settled in safe countries now in order to try to start the difficult process of healing.
We call for everyone forced to remain on Nauru and Manus Island to be settled in safe countries immediately.
Australia has implemented brutal policies under the guise of “saving lives at sea”.
Yet, there have been 37 deaths in offshore and onshore detention facilities since 2010; 16 have taken their own lives.
We, like many Australians, believe that these lives matter.
Re-traumatising refugees and denying them any hope of a safe and secure future cannot remain Australian policy.
We need to continue to tell our politicians to end the offshore processing regime, once and for all.